Text: Leviticus 19:9-18
Date: Pentecost VIII + Proper 10 + 7/10/16
In today’s Gospel a lawyer intended to put Jesus to the test. He asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lutheran Law/Gospel ears are instantly raised!) In typical Jewish style Jesus answers his question with another question, “What is written in the Law?” In other words, if you want to talk about salvation in terms of doing something you must look to God’s Law, there’s no other way. The man answered correctly quoting the Great Shema of the Old Testament, the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then Jesus ends the discussion with the parable of the Good Samaritan emphasizing that second half of the Great Command concerning love of neighbor from today’s Old Testament reading in Leviticus 19.
Today you need to put on and secure tightly your Law/Gospel headphones, for the command to love God and neighbor so easily draws us back into the way of the Law. If a person is to win God’s favor and be saved by the works of the Law the catch is perfection, the Law must be obeyed perfectly and completely or else you lose. How do you hear the command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”? What happens if you don’t? If you are attempting to be saved by the Law what happens is obvious, you lose, you’re out! Then why even try? God knows the answer to that. For God knows our weakness and so has provided a way that even weak, imperfect sinners such as you and I can love God and neighbor.
In the book of Leviticus we are told, first of all, that as God chose Abraham and his descendants to be His own people, those through whom He would provide and proclaim salvation for the whole world, so you are to know that God has chosen you. You did not first come to Him. Look how many people have never even thought of coming to and seeking after God. There’s a reason for that. It is the universal, fallen, spiritually blind and dead nature of every sinner to think that God is in any business but that of judgment and damnation and certainly not love and salvation unless we somehow get our act together. So God must first come to each person to draw us to Himself. He does so through His Word and Spirit proclaimed and made available by His own people, the Church.
In order to bring people into fellowship with Himself in the Old Testament God, first, commanded the erection of a sanctuary for the dwelling place of His name, the manifestation of His own essence and gracious presence. He must come to us and reveal Himself to us by His own means. So has God established in the New Testament the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church through which He gives His presence and gifts. There we find that He has made His gracious presence in the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. We find that because He tells us all about it in His Word and through the sacraments He has commanded as means or channels through which He gives us His grace, life, forgiveness and salvation.
Having established a relationship of salvation, then, the other side of His covenant relationship with you is your response of love, love for God and love for neighbor. But here’s the key. Knowing our weakness we continue to be drawn back to the sanctuary, to God’s side where we continue to receive the forgiveness of our sin and weakness, as well as the gifts of His Spirit, the first of which is love. In other words, the love is not the requirement to gain God or heaven but the evidence that God has adopted us and filled us with Himself.
Now listen to the first verse of chapter 19 with your Law/Gospel ears correctly set: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Again, this is not primarily a threat of Law, that is, “if you’re not holy then you can’t come to me anymore.” It is, rather, a promise of the Gospel, that is, “because you belong to Me and I am holy, I make you to be holy, to share in my holiness.”
That brings us to understand correctly these Laws concerning the conduct towards one’s neighbor in verses 9-18. Notice the repeated phrase at the end of each paragraph, “I am the Lord your God” and “I am the Lord” repeated four more times. In other words, it is because we belong to the Lord and share, by the forgiveness of our sins, His glory in our care for and providing for the poor and the sojourner. This is the reason we are motivated not to steal, or deal falsely or lie to our neighbor. It is because we swear by God’s name in true repentance and faith that He is our God, that is, because we belong to Him.
God does not oppress or rob anyone, and is the helper of the deaf and the blind. So are we! God judges in righteousness from His heart of love and salvation, and so do we! God does not hate sinners but comes “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). So do we.
Because God has first loved us is the only reason that we can love Him or one another. Therefore, we remain connected with the source of love in that sanctuary of His presence where we thrive on His constant supply of forgiveness and the gifts and fruits of His Spirit. Because God has shown us mercy says Jesus, “You go, and do likewise” if you belong to Him, trusting in God’s never-ending supply of mercy for you.
In sharp contrast to the mob violence we have been witnessing sweeping across our nation lately, in his Commencement Address to the graduates of Hillsdale College this past May, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court of the United States concluded with these words.
“As the years have moved swiftly by, I have often reflected on the important citizenship lessons of my life. For the most part, it was the unplanned array of small things. There was the kind gesture from a neighbor. There was my grandmother dividing our dinner because someone showed up unannounced. There was the stranger stopping to help us get our crops out of the field before a big storm. There were the nuns who believed in us and lived in our neighborhood. There was the librarian who brought books to Mass so that I would not be without reading on the farm. Small gestures such as these become large lessons about how to live our lives. We watched and learned what it means to be a good person, a good neighbor, a good citizen.” Then he concluded, asking, “Who will be watching you? And what will you be teaching them?” Things like these and more is what it means to live as God’s holy people “In Holy Love.”